On the Picket Line

After monthlong strike, Quebec iron ore workers win contract

By Beverly Bernardo
June 28, 2021

MONTREAL — After a monthlong strike against ArcelorMittal, 2,500 iron ore miners and processing, rail and office workers in Port-Cartier and Fermont on Quebec’s North Shore, members of five United Steelworkers union locals, overwhelmingly ratified a new contract June 8.

ArcelorMittal is the largest steel conglomerate in the world and biggest private employer on Quebec’s North Shore. The key issues were wage increases, improved pensions, better working conditions, a measure of respect from the bosses, and higher premiums paid to workers in remote locations like Fermont, in the frigid far north of Quebec. Workers said the bosses had reneged on promises they made in 2017, particularly on health, cleanliness and issues related to work camps and food services, making the unionists more determined to push on these issues today.

“We made gains on several of the issues where our members were demanding improvements,” Johanne Proulx, an operator in production in Port-Cartier, said in an email to this Militant  worker-correspondent. “A wonderful victory for all of us! Now we return to work with a big smile. Solidarity!”

“Including cost-of-living bonuses, the new collective agreement provides for average salary increases of more than 3% per year, as well as average annual increases in pension benefits of 3.75%,” Nicolas Lapierre, United Steelworkers coordinator for the North Shore region, said in a statement.

The company abandoned its demand for a punishing 14 days on, 14 days off schedule for railroad employees in Port-Cartier. The northern premium for Fermont workers will increase by more than 90%, to $1,200 a month by 2024.

In addition, there are two letters of agreement appended to the contract. One provides a bonus of between CA$1,000 and CA$1,200 for all workers living in North Shore communities located between Baie-Trinite and Sept-Iles. The other allows the creation of a task force to deal with issues raised by the workers and their union, including conditions at the concentrator at the Mont-Wright facilities and health and safety questions.

During the strike unionists in Fermont, a town of less than 3,000, organized three marches to win support. Steelworkers visited the picket lines in both Fermont and Port-Cartier and donated funds. Over 150 workers, including Unifor members locked out by Shell Canada since last November, attended a May 21 solidarity rally in Longueuil near Montreal.